New Jersey Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What is Squatting in New Jersey?

Squatting refers to occupying an abandoned or vacant property without the permission of the owner. A squatter is someone who moves into a property they do not own or rent, with the intention of gaining ownership or possession through adverse possession laws. 

Squatting differs from criminal trespassing, in that trespassers enter property without permission, but make no claim of ownership or possession. Squatters occupy the property with the goal of taking ownership after a certain period of time.

Trespassers can be removed quickly through police action, while squatters may have to go through a more complex eviction process. Trespassers have no rights and make no claim over the property, while squatters attempt to leverage adverse possession laws to gain rights.

Overall, the main difference is that squatters occupy property with the intention of claiming ownership, whereas trespassers simply enter without permission and make no claim of rights. Squatters hope to gain legal possession after fulfilling certain continuous occupation requirements.

How Adverse Possession Works in New Jersey

In New Jersey, squatters can claim legal ownership of a property through adverse possession if they occupy the land continuously for 30 years. Adverse possession, also known as squatters rights, allows someone to gain title to real estate without paying for it. 

To claim adverse possession in New Jersey, the squatter must prove the following elements:

Actual Possession

The squatter must have actual, physical possession of the property. They must treat the land as if they were the actual owner.

Open & Notorious Possession

It must be obvious to anyone that the squatter is occupying the land. They make no effort to hide the fact they are living on the property.

Exclusive Possession

The squatter must be the only one possessing and occupying the land. Adverse possession claims fail if the legal owner also occupies the property.

Continuous Possession

The squatter must reside on the property for the entire statutory period of 30 years. They cannot abandon the land and then return to reclaim it. 

Hostile Possession

Hostile means the squatter occupied the land without permission from the legal owner. Their use of the property must be against the rights of the true owner.

The 30-year continuous possession clock starts ticking once a squatter begins occupying the property. Any gap in their residency can disrupt the continuity and sabotage an adverse possession claim.

Occupying the Property for 30 Years 

In order to make an adverse possession claim in New Jersey, a squatter must occupy the property continuously for at least 30 years. This means residing on the property full-time and using it as their permanent home for the entire 30-year period. 

New Jersey has strict standards for what constitutes continuous occupation of a property. Simply making sporadic visits or improvements to the land will not be enough to establish adverse possession. The squatter must have an actual, physical presence on the property for 30 uninterrupted years. 

Additionally, the occupation must be exclusive to the squatter during this time. If the title owner also resides on or uses parts of the property, then it interrupts the exclusivity and continuity requirements. The squatter must be the sole occupant and user of the land, without permission from the legal owner, for the full statutory period.

To demonstrate continuous occupation, the squatter must show evidence like utility bills, repaired structures, maintenance, and other actions consistent with ownership. The consistent physical presence and use of the property gives notice to the public and legal owner that the squatter is staking a claim to the land. Without this long, unbroken occupation, the squatter cannot advance an adverse possession claim.

Filing a Quiet Title Lawsuit

If squatters have occupied a property in New Jersey continuously for at least 30 years, the next step in claiming legal ownership is to file a lawsuit known as a "quiet title action." This requires the squatters to file a civil lawsuit against the legal owner of record and anyone else with an interest in the property, such as banks holding mortgages. The goal of a quiet title suit is for the squatter to get a court order officially transferring the title into their name.

The burden of proof is entirely on the squatter in a quiet title lawsuit. They must convince the court that they meet all the required elements to adversely possess the property: actual possession, open and notorious possession, exclusive possession, continuous possession for 30+ years, and hostile possession without permission. The squatter must also show they paid property taxes on the land. If they cannot provide sufficient evidence on each legal requirement, their claim to adverse possession will fail.

Defending against a quiet title lawsuit can be complicated for property owners. If the squatter presents a convincing case and has strong evidence like receipts for 30 years of property tax payments, the owner may choose to settle by selling the property rather than engaging in a lengthy court battle. An attorney familiar with real estate law can best advise the owner on their options and legal rights.

Using Color of Title

Color of title refers to when a squatter has some kind of document, like a deed, that appears to give them legal ownership of the property, even if the document is invalid or worthless. Having color of title does not give the squatter actual legal rights to the property, but it can help strengthen an adverse possession claim in New Jersey by showing that the squatter had a reasonable belief that they had a right to occupy and possess the property.

Some examples of defective documents that could provide color of title include:

  • A deed that was not properly recorded
  • A deed from someone who in fact does not actually own the property 
  • A deed that was not properly executed per state laws
  • A forged deed

Though these documents are legally worthless in transferring title to the property, they can still serve as color of title if the squatter believes in good faith that the documents give them ownership rights. This helps demonstrate the “claim of right” element required for adverse possession. The squatter is not merely trespassing, but occupying the property under an honest but mistaken belief that they are the true owner.

Having color of title alone does not establish ownership through adverse possession in New Jersey. The squatter still needs to meet all the other requirements such as continuous occupation for 30+ years. However, color of title combined with the other elements can make for a stronger case to gain legal title to the property through adverse possession. So while color of title itself does not convey legal rights, it is something squatters may try to seek out to help their claim down the road if they end up filing a lawsuit to quiet title after 30 years of occupation.

Overall, color of title provides evidence that the squatter is not just a trespasser with no basis for occupying the property. When paired with long-term, open and continuous possession, color of title helps show that the squatter has a reasonable claim of ownership. While it does not prove the squatter's case on its own, it can be a useful component of an overall claim for adverse possession.

Paying Property Taxes 

Paying property taxes on a property you don't legally own can help establish an adverse possession claim in New Jersey. Paying taxes shows you have been openly occupying the property without trying to hide your possession. Property taxes are public record, so paying them makes it clear to the owner and the public that you are occupying the land.

New Jersey courts have ruled that payment of property taxes is relevant evidence for an adverse possession claim. It helps demonstrate the "open and notorious" occupation requirement. The taxes don't have to be paid for the entire 30-year period, but courts want to see a pattern of paying taxes that corresponds with the adverse possession period.

Paying property taxes alone isn't enough to claim adverse possession. You still need to meet all the other requirements like actual, continuous, hostile possession without permission from the owner. But tax payments can be an important part of proving those elements. It shows you used the property as if you were the rightful owner.

So while adverse possession claims ultimately depend on physical occupation and use of the land, paying property taxes can provide documentation to support your claim. Consult with a real estate attorney to ensure you meet all the requirements in New Jersey before filing an adverse possession lawsuit. Taxes alone won't get you ownership of the property.

Removing Squatters 

If you find squatters occupying your New Jersey property, you will need to take steps to remove them before they can try to make an adverse possession claim. Here are some of the options for removing squatters:

Call the Police  

  • If you find someone squatting on your property, you can call your local police department to report criminal trespassing. The police will require the squatters to immediately leave the premises or face arrest for trespassing. This can be the fastest way to get unwanted squatters off your land.  
  • Make sure you have documentation proving you own the property, such as the property deed or tax records. The squatters may try to claim they have a right to be there, but the police will still require them to leave if you can show it is your property. The squatters have no rights unless they have been occupying the land continuously for 30+ years.

Serve a Notice to Vacate 

  • If the police remove the squatters but they simply return again, the next step is to serve them with a written notice to vacate. This is a formal notice giving them a deadline to leave the premises, usually 3-30 days depending on your state laws. 
  • The notice should be direct - stating they have no legal right to occupy your property and must leave by the deadline. Make sure you keep a copy of the notice showing proof of service.
  • If the squatters do not leave by the deadline, you can then file a lawsuit to have them formally evicted. The notice to vacate helps build your case for the eviction.

File an Eviction Lawsuit

  • If the squatters refuse to leave after proper notice, the final step is to file a lawsuit to have them evicted. This is known as an ejectment or eviction lawsuit. 
  • You will need to file the lawsuit in your local county court and pay a filing fee. The court will schedule a hearing where you can present your evidence that you own the property and did not give the squatters permission to live there. 
  • If the judge rules in your favor, the court will issue a formal eviction order. If the squatters still refuse to leave, the county sheriff can physically remove them and their belongings from the property.
  • The full eviction process can take several weeks or months depending on your state laws and the court schedule. It is always better to remove squatters as quickly as possible before they try to make an adverse possession claim.

Abandoned Personal Property 

If squatters are evicted or choose to leave voluntarily, they may abandon personal possessions and property on the land. As the owner of the property, you have options for dealing with any abandoned property.

In general, the landlord can immediately dispose of any trash, hazardous materials, or perishable items left behind. For valuable property like furniture, electronics, tools, or other personal items, the landlord may store the property temporarily. 

Landlords should be aware of laws regarding notification and storage timelines for handling abandoned property. In New Jersey, you must store abandoned property in a safe location for at least 10 days. You must also make reasonable efforts to notify the tenants that you have their possessions. This could include sending a letter to their last known address.  

After 10 days, if the tenant has not claimed or retrieved their property, the landlord can sell the items and apply any money earned to unpaid rent or damages. Any remaining money must be returned to the tenant. If the abandoned property has little monetary value, the landlord can dispose of it after 10 days.

Storing abandoned property can become a headache for landlords. An alternative is to simply leave any abandoned possessions outside the rental unit for the tenant to retrieve. With proper notification, the tenant is responsible for collecting their own property, and the landlord does not have duties for storage and sale.

It's recommended that landlords take photos and document any abandoned property before disposing of it or selling it. This protects the landlord in case of any disputes over whether property was rightfully kept or discarded.

Preventing Squatters

Taking steps to secure vacant properties is key to preventing squatters from moving in and trying to claim adverse possession. Here are some tips for property owners:

Secure all entry points

Make sure all doors and windows are locked. Board up any broken windows or doors. Install new locks if necessary. Post "No Trespassing" signs around the property. 

Conduct regular inspections

Periodically check on vacant properties to ensure no one has broken in and taken up residence. Look for signs of trespassing like broken locks, lights being on, belongings inside, etc.

Hire a property management company

They can regularly monitor the property, quickly identify any unauthorized occupants, and take legal action to remove them. Having a property manager oversee the land makes it much harder for squatters to move in without being detected.

Don't abandon properties

The longer a property sits vacant and unattended, the more likely squatters may try to move in. Keeping it maintained and frequently checked on helps deter squatters.

Consider demolition

As a last resort, some property owners demolish vacant buildings so squatters have nowhere to take up residence. Demolition can be expensive so other preventative measures should be explored first.

Taking proactive measures to secure and monitor vacant properties is the best way for owners to protect their assets from potential squatters. Partnering with a property management firm also provides helpful oversight and quick response if any unauthorized occupants are found.

Recent Changes to Squatters Laws in New Jersey

New Jersey's adverse possession laws have remained largely unchanged for many years. However, there have been some recent proposals to amend the laws, though none have been enacted yet.

In 2016, a bill was introduced in the New Jersey legislature that would increase the time period for adverse possession from 30 years to 60 years. The bill grandfathers in any adverse possession claims already underway, so squatters who have occupied a property for over 10 years would still only need 20 more years of continuous possession to file a claim. However, for new claims, the required time period would double to 60 years. 

The bill did not pass, so the 30-year time period remains in effect. However, with increasing home prices and housing shortages in New Jersey, there may be more motivation to revisit proposals to make adverse possession more difficult. Extending the time period could discourage some claims and provide more protection for property owners.

Some states have abolished adverse possession altogether or created exceptions for certain types of properties. For now, New Jersey's laws remain unchanged, but amendments could be proposed in the future. Anyone currently seeking ownership through adverse possession or hoping to prevent such claims should stay informed on any legal changes.

Key Takeaways

  • In New Jersey, squatters can claim legal ownership through adverse possession after occupying a property for 30 years. This requires continuous, open, notorious, exclusive, and hostile use of the property.
  • For a successful claim, squatters must physically occupy the property, use it openly and without hiding, keep others from using it, maintain continuous presence for 30 years, and use the property without the owner's permission.
  • After fulfilling the 30-year requirement, squatters must file a "quiet title action" in court to legally claim ownership. This lawsuit challenges the current owner's title, and the squatter must prove they meet all criteria for adverse possession.
  • Having a document that suggests some legal claim to the property, even if flawed, can strengthen a squatter's claim to adverse possession in New Jersey, though it's not required to succeed.
  • Paying property taxes is not explicitly stated as a requirement in New Jersey's adverse possession laws but doing so can support a squatter's claim by demonstrating an assumption of ownership responsibilities.
  • Property owners should regularly inspect their properties, secure entrances, and consider hiring property management services to prevent squatters from occupying their properties.
  • There have been attempts to amend New Jersey's adverse possession laws, including proposals to extend the required period of possession, though no significant changes have been enacted as of the article's information.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I kick someone out of my house in NJ?

In New Jersey, you cannot simply kick someone out of your house, especially if they've been living there, even without a formal lease. To remove someone from your home legally, you typically need to go through the formal eviction process, which involves serving a notice to vacate and possibly filing an eviction lawsuit if the individual does not leave voluntarily.

How long does it take to get squatters rights in NJ?

To claim squatters' rights, or adverse possession, in New Jersey, an individual must occupy the property continuously for 30 years. This occupation must be open, notorious, exclusive, continuous, and hostile without the permission of the property owner.

What is the adverse possession law in New Jersey?

Adverse possession law in New Jersey allows a person to claim legal ownership of a property if they have occupied it continuously, openly, notoriously, exclusively, and hostilely for a period of 30 years, meeting all legal criteria during that time.

How long does it take to evict a squatter in New Jersey?

The time it takes to evict a squatter in New Jersey can vary depending on the specific circumstances, such as how quickly the eviction lawsuit is filed and processed through the courts. The formal eviction process includes serving a notice to vacate, filing an eviction lawsuit if necessary, and obtaining a court order. This process can take from several weeks to a few months.

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